Author Archive

I wonder…

March 21, 2012

I was listening to Start the Week on Monday when the programme was exploring the issue of middle age.  That weekend, I had just watched the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and had laughed and cried my way through it and so I was just in the right space for thinking about how I was approaching my middle years (I’m 47, by the way)

On the programme, the poet Simon Armitage said that he thought it wasn’t wisdom that we should focus on cultivating in our middle years but rather the quality of wonder.  I really liked that and it got me thinking  about what it might be like to bring an attitude of wonder to our work…

When running a leadership development programme, I always encourage leaders to approach their learning with curiosity so that, rather than saying ‘damn, I didn’t get that right’ they’d be more likely to say ‘mmm, interesting, I wonder why I did that… ’.  And that leads me to think about how much more we might get from our daily experiences if we took that attitude in our daily life…we’d be more likely to  increase our levels of self awareness, for sure, and I reckon it would feel a lot kinder too.

Flower - Discover - Blue Sky Performance Improvement

There’s a Chinese proverb that says ‘a truly great person never puts away the simplicity of a child’ and I think the same can be said for the sense of delight and wonder they have about the world around them.  My mindfulness practice has taught me to, every so often, really savour a moment and soak up the experience. So it could be that, in between rushing from one meeting to the next, you take a minute (yes, even you can fit a 60 second pause before that next meeting…) to stop and look at a flower (no, not hug a tree…just look at a flower), whether it’s in a display or outside, and really be amazed at the intricacy and beauty of what nature produces; or to really taste the different flavours of the tea in your cup and think about where that tea came from, who might have picked it, what his or her life might be like or who stacked the box of tea on to the shelves in your local supermarket.  How often are we really IN each moment, allowing ourselves to notice what’s wonderful?

There’s also a sense of wonder that we connect to when we do something for the first time and have a new experience.  For many of us, we have chosen to stay in some well trodden paths in our lives (dare I suggest that they may have become ruts…?) and we can realise with a jolt that it’s been a while since we did anything new.  Does that resonate for you? So whether it’s taking that ballroom dancing lesson that your partner has been wanting to do,  taking a new route to work or popping into the art gallery down the road in your lunch hour, try and build in something to your day that is novel and may well create an opportunity for wonder…

So, thank you Simon Armitage for reminding me about what’s important.  And I’m also going to buy The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel on DVD to remind me how to embrace my middle years , and beyond, with wonder.


Helena Clayton - Blue Sky Performance Improvement

Blue Sky Performance Improvement


Baby, it’s cold outside!

December 21, 2011

Baby, it’s cold outside.  Winter officially starts on 21st December.  Now with news about the recession and many of us struggling with dark mornings and nights, it may well feel as if winter’s here already.  But even if it is, it’s a still a time of opportunity if we think about what gardeners might have to teach us…

The wise gardeners among us will be starting to prune their plants soon, cutting back hard into the old growth so as to make room for new growth in the Spring.  For us office-bound people, this is a great opportunity to go through our files, drawers and emails and get shot of the paperwork and emails that we no longer need.  Is there anyone who wouldn’t feel better after a good sort-out?

My dad recently planted up some daffodil bulbs and gave them to me as a gift.  And thinking of those bulbs germinating all winter beneath the earth I also wondered what ideas and suggestions I wanted to plant in colleagues’ mind , what outcomes might I want to influence, what plans I might want to hatch that might incubate and bear fruit in due course.  Plant some ideas now and watch them grow.

And consider the staying indoors -as it’s too cold to go out mindset as a great opportunity to plan and design next year’s wonderful garden.  Allow yourself to dream and create a vision for how you want next year to be.  Give some thought to what’s gone really well this year, and not so well.  Identify what you’d like to be different next year.

With this, plus some woolly mitts, it’ll be a lovely winter…


Helena Clayton - Blue Sky Performance Improvement

Blue Sky Performance Improvement

Staying resilient

November 14, 2011

A couple of things happened last week.  The first was that I saw this article ‘is it too tough at the top?’ in the Independent about the number of CEO’s who were leaving their posts due to stress or exhaustion.

Pressure - Resiliance - Blue Sky Performance Improvement

What really brought this to life for me was that one of my coaching clients had just been promoted to a much bigger job.  He also had between eight and ten meetings every day, and had done for many months.  This was also the time of year when his organisation did its business planning.  On top of this he had a new baby at home  – who wasn’t well last week – and two other children. So, not surprisingly, we got onto the subject of how he keeps sane and healthy under this sort of constant pressure.  We talked about the notion of resilience and what that meant.  We discussed the fact that it covered many areas – our physical health, the way we manage our emotions, the space we carve out for ourselves for activities that renew us and how we respond to stress. We discussed the fact that organisational sustainability is often talked about these days but less so personal sustainability.  How do we stay strong during tough times?

Tony Schwartz writes about how managing our energy is so much more important than how we manage our time and that staying resilient is more like a series of sprints with rest in between as opposed to a marathon where we just k-e-e-e-p-o-n-g-o-i-n-g.  You can see some of his work here (  but in the meantime, here are some effective strategies that may seem obvious but are so often overlooked.  Do you:

  • Eat the right foods and get enough sleep?
  • Exercise regularly?
  • Continue to make time in your life for activities that give you joy?
  • Spend at least a few minutes each day in silence?
  • Spend time in nature?
  • Make sure you laugh regularly?
  • Take a break every 90 minutes?
  • Focus on one thing at a time?

Personally, I know that I don’t laugh enough and that helps me keep things in perspective.  So I’m off to watch Kung Fu Panda…again.


Helena Clayton - Blue Sky Performance Improvement

Blue Sky Performance Improvement

The human face of (your) leadership

November 3, 2011

The recent MacLeod report on Engagement found that leadership and management were the key drivers of engagement. Research from Accenture finds that 80% of the variation in engagement is attributable to leadership, and Professor Beverly Alimo-Metcalfe’s research reports that the attitudes and behaviours of senior managers were ‘formidable blocks’ to engagement.

As leaders, we know that engagement drives performance but are we as aware that it’s our leadership behaviours that drive engagement? And that it’s not the quality of our strategy or our spreadsheets that engages our people but the way that we connect with them as human beings, moment by moment…

Engage - Human Face - Blue Sky Performance Improvement

Taken directly from our current work with clients, here are examples of what leaders are doing to demonstrate the human face of their leadership:

  • Know the names of your team’s partners and children (and make sure they know yours).  You’d be surprised by how many of us don’t know this about our teams
  • Share something of who you are with your people. We often ask our teams about their weekends but don’t reciprocate. Sharing something about your own weekend or your own personal circumstances, for example, will build trust and deepen the relationship
  • Speak to 5 people before you switch on your computer.  This piece of advice is from Tim Smit of the Eden project who suggests you talk to 20 people…but you may prefer to start with five to begin with!
  • Phone one of your team when there’s no ‘real’ reason to do so. So often we call to check on a deadline, or to relay some client information. This time just call to have a chat and see how they’re doing. Make your relationship with that person the real reason for the call.
  • Give people your undivided attention. How often are we in a meeting and checking texts when someone is speaking?  Or glancing over someone’s shoulder as we’re talking at something else that’s going on in the office? We know how good it feels when we are truly listened to and we need to provide our own people with that same feeling.

Focus on the human aspects of your leadership…and see what difference it makes to you and your people.


Helena Clayton - Blue Sky Performance Improvement

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